James Lee (1786-1852)

This page is part of the Holmfirth Flood Project which aims to make content available to researchers in advance of the 175th anniversary of the 1852 Flood which will be commemorated in 2027.

James Lee was a tailor who perished in the Holmfirth Flood of 1852.


He was born in Holmfirth in 1786, the son of George Lee, and was baptised on 24 December 1786 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth

He likely married twice. Firstly to Sarah Woodhead (c.1786-1830) on 12 October 1807 and then to Betty Ellis (c.1785-?) on 1 September 1830, with both marriages taking place at All Hallows, Kirkburton. He is believed to have had six children with Sarah:

  • Martha Lee (1809-1886)[1]
  • Hannah Lee (1811-?)
  • Betty Lee (1813-?)[2]
  • Mary Lee (1817-?)[3]
  • Ruth Lee (1819-1897)[4]
  • Charles Lee (1821-18?3)[5]

The 1841 Census lists James (aged 50) residing at Rotcher Bottom with his second wife Betty (50), his daughter tailor Ruth Lee (20), and two others who are listed in the 1851 Census as James' grandchildren: Job[6] (11) and Sarah Lee[7] (8 months). Baptismal records for the grandchildren were not found during research, so their parentage remains uncertain.[8]

Ruth Lee married hand loom weaver Benjamin Brierley on 23 June 1844 at Kirkburton.

By the time of the 1851 Census, Ruth (31) and Benjamin (37) were living with her widower father James (64). Joe Lee was also residing in the house and working as a tailor, along with Sarah[9] (10).

Holmfirth Flood of 1852

According to The Flood Came and Took Them All Away and Sorrow on the Land, in the early hours of 5 February, James Lee and grandson Job were working downstairs "making black clothes for a funeral" when the flood waters burst into the house. However, the Leeds Intelligencer instead states that the two men were in their beds in the downstairs room, before describing the rescue of Job by his sister Ruth and her husband Benjamin:[10]

Of the various escapes which were made perhaps none was more marvellous than that of a young man of twenty-two years of age, named Job Lee, the grandson of James Lee, with whom he resided at that part of Holmfirth named Rocher. Job and his grandfather had gone to bed in a room on the lower floor of a house, the upper rooms of which are occupied by Benjamin Brierley. Brierley had been alarmed at an early period by hearing a strange rumbling noise rapidly approaching the village, which he very correctly attributed to the bursting of the reservoir, when he immediately roused his wife, and accompanied by her rushed downstairs. On reaching Lee's door, Brierley gave it a violent kick which broke a panel nearly from top to bottom, making an aperture in the side of the door of about four inches and a half in width, and at the same moment the water burst in upon them. What we are now about to state may well appear incredible, but we have been so assured of the circumstance happening as we are about to narrate it, that we arc bound to believe in its truth. It appears that Job Lee had heard the Brierleys coming down stairs, and becoming alarmed, he had sprung from his bed and rushed to the door, which he bad reached at the very moment the panel was broken in. Stretching first his arms through the opening he both seized and was laid hold of by Brierley and his wife, and as the water continued to rush in a deadly struggle ensued, Lee retaining his grasp with desperate determination, Brierley and his wife at the same time endeavouring to extricate themselves from his deadly grasp, until at length, when the water was up to their necks, and life or death hung in the balance, the body of Lee was actually drawn through the arrow aperture, and the three made their escape.

James Lee's body was recovered by James Bailey and taken to the Elephant and Castle Inn where it was formally identified by Job Lee.

As a member of Ancient Order of Foresters, his relatives received £8 towards the cost of the funeral. He was buried on Sunday 8 February at St. John's Church, Upperthong.

Job Lee continued to live in the Rotcher area of Holmfirth where he worked as both a tailor (1861 Census) and later as a greengrocer (1871-1891 Censuses), with his aunt Ruth living with him as a housekeeper. He did not marry.

On Sunday 28 February 1858, Job discovered that a labourer named Reuben Lindley[11], who had been lodging with him for several years, had stolen a quantity of cloth in his absence. It was claimed Lindley took the cloth to Oldham and sold it to Matthew Scott. At the magistrate’s court in Holmfirth, Lindley refused to say anything in his defence and was committed for trial at Bradford.[12]

Ruth reverted to using her maiden name by 1881 and she likely died in 1897, aged 77. A note on the 1891 Census records Ruth as being "lame from childhood".

In May 1882, tailor Job Lee "had been riding in a stone cart near Cartworth, and was in the act of jumping out when he alighted on a stone and broke his leg." He was brought back to Holmfirth and "attended to by Mr. W. Berry."[13]

On 29 January 1890, a sale of "the house and business premises, at Rotcher, Holmfirth" of Job Lee took place at the Waggon and Horses Inn in Holmfirth.[14]

Job Lee died aged 68 in 1898.

Notes and References

  1. Believed to have married William Fletcher and lived in Lancashire.
  2. Born 13 February 1814 and baptised 28 February 1814 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth. Possibly married Joseph Haigh in 1835 and died prior to 1851.
  3. Born 28 January 1817 and baptised 13 February 1817 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth.
  4. Born 13 November 1819 and baptised 8 January 1820 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth.
  5. Born 6 February 1821 and baptised 16 January 1822 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth. Died either in 1823 (aged 1) or in 1833 (aged 10).
  6. Another Job Lee was born in the Holmfirth area around the same time, the son of Jabez and Jane Lee, who married Elizabeth Dyson in 1853 and who worked as a weaver.
  7. Born Q4 1840.
  8. Given that Charles Lee did not survive into adulthood and that James' other known children were female, the fact that Job and Sarah both had the surname "Lee" suggests they were illegitimate children born to one (or two) of James' daughters.
  9. Sarah is likely the Sarah Lee listed in the 1861 Census as a servant grocer and corn dealer William Gledhill of South Lane, Wooldale. Given the Lee family’s links to tailoring, she is probably the Sarah Lee listed as an unmarried dressmaker in the 1881 Census residing at Paris, near Hepworth, and then at Lee Nook, Jackson Bridge, in the 1891 Census.
  10. "From Our Own Reporter" in Leeds Intelligencer (14/Feb/1852).
  11. Ruth was possibly in a relationship with Reuben since her surname was recorded as "Lindley" on the 1861 Census.
  12. "Holmfirth: Charge of Felony" in Huddersfield Chronicle (08/May/1858). Reuben Lindley had previously been convicted for larceny in the 1840s and was sentenced to 10 years penal servitude for the theft of Job Lee's cloth. He remained in Australia and likely died there in the 1890s.
  13. "Accident" in Huddersfield Chronicle (26/May/1882).
  14. "Sales by Auction" in Huddersfield Chronicle (11/Jan/1890).